5.0 Mustang & Super FordsProject Vehicles
1989 Ford Mustang - Project Real Street Part 11: Engine And Suspension Improvements - Rekindling the Flame
After a long hiatus, we reignite our flamed 1989 Ford Mustang Real Street project car with several improvements
Magazine project cars (at least mine) are notorious for being slow to develop, hard to finish, and quick to underperform. It's not that we editor types don't have our hearts in the right place, but rather that life and work often get in the way. I've often said I admire the maniacs who compete across and entire drag-racing season, and that's mainly because I don't have what it takes-drive, talent, and so on. It was bad enough that my little Real Street car took way too long to build, but by the time it was finished the rules and performance in the class had well exceeded my thoughts for a streetable car that could still run in the class.
Even so, we dragged the car out to the NMRA World Finals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, back in 2004. We let Mark Anderson (son of Ron, nephew of Rick) race it there just to see what it could do. The Anderson crew basically chased the car's bugs all day, but it eventually ran a 10.70 at 129.92 with a broken antiroll bar and a head gasket that let go at the top of Third gear. In my eyes, that was a pretty decent performance for a car that still had air conditioning, power steering, and a full interior-not to mention the as-assembled valvesprings on the Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads. It was fun to bench-race the idea that had things worked out, the car could have run a 10.40 or so, which would be pretty good for a street car.
Naturally we had to fix the head gasket, which shouldn't take more than a year. But throw in all the other upgrades I wanted to do "while we were at it," along with an office move, a longer commute, and my in-house tech editor Mark Houlahan moving to take over the helm at Mustang & Fords, and I had a recipe for slow motion. We started off, in print anyway, by upgrading the tranny back in the Dec. '05 issue ("Rock the Gearbox," p. 134) with Pro Motion's Street Pro Tremec TKO 600. Not only did the car have the aforementioned limitations, but it was also rolling with a borrowed tranny that had only the pro-shift treatment in Third gear. The Street Pro is a definite step in the right direction.
Of course, long before that the while-we're-at-it improvements had begun. Obviously, a new set of head gaskets was in order after No. 7 had a major blowout, but if a fuel shortage had caused the lean-out, bigger injectors were in order. Since the heads had to come off anyway, why not better valvesprings for more rpm? With more rpm, the stock block might be in danger, so could we bolster that? More boost would come with more rpm, so a bigger bypass wouldn't be a bad idea. Last but not least, a broken antiroll bar was likely a sign to perform a wholesale rear-suspension upgrade. Project cars are never done.
So we finally put the car back together, but that was one time a little more procrastination might have paid off. By the time we were nearly reassembled, the NMRA Real Street rules had changed once again. The good news is, this car is nearly legal (only smaller headers, a larger blower pulley, and a six-rib belt stand in the way) and it should be as close to competitive as it's ever been. It might just be time to hand over the keys to someone with more talent and dedication so the car's potential might be realized. Until then, I'm planning to strap it to our new, in-house Mustang dyno to see if all those while-we're-at-its actually helped, but that's another story.
Horse Sense: For the past year, we've thought the NMRA should slow down the Real Street class to attract more racers. This season, they took that message to heart-the prior combinations were limited in a big way for '06. Among the changes were a mandate for six-rib supercharger belts (down from eight ribs), a maximum of 151/48-inch short-tube headers (down from 171/48), the elimination of the controversial and large Paxton Novi 2000 supercharger, a 160-pound limit on valvespring pressure (previously unlimited), and a limit of 3.73:1 rearend ratios for 5.0 engines (4.10 ratio or for 4.6 engines; previously unlimited). Will these changes slow down the class? Will there be more racers? By the time you read this, we should have an idea.
As slow as we are, at least we have a great facility in which to work on our in-house project cars. Since we moved to the big city, our shop went from grunge to glam. We have a Mustang chassis dyno, a two-post lift, a full appointment of tools from Powerbuilt, some pretty Hot Rod furniture, and even an epoxy-coated floor from UCoat It to protect it from the inevitable spills. We're not bragging-just taking care of the sponsors and letting you know we don't have many excuses for not getting our projects done anymore. We just have to work on getting out from behind the desk more often so we can take advantage of our in-house dream garage.
The folks at Horse Power Sales say a stock two-bolt 5.0 block survived 9,200 rpm, thanks to its Valley Girdle ($229). That's a pretty bold claim, but at the time we were revamping our project car, the real Real Street guys were regularly surpassing 7,500 rpm. They, however, have expensive, rugged race blocks. We didn't want to replace our trusty D.S.S. Bullet until we had to, so we figured, why not add the Valley Girdle? Our block already features D.S.S. Main Support, so we could see what a stock block with support from top to bottom is good for.
Installing the Valley Girdle isn't too tough, especially when you already have the intake and cylinder heads off as we did. The first step is removing the lifter spider's retaining bolts and using the longer bolts supplied with the Valley Girdle to fasten it in the center. Then you use the girdle's holes as a guide to drill into the block. It sounds scary, but it's not too bad. Just make sure you capture all those nasty metal shavings-you don't want them floating around in your oil. We changed our Royal Purple just in case.
With the holes drilled and the area cleansed of metal, simply tap in two dowel pins to hold it securely in place. HPS says the Valley Girdle stabilizes the block and reduces cylinder-bore and lifter-bore distortion, which could lead to block failure. Reducing such friction should also free a bit more power, but we'd be happy if it just makes our already-bolstered stock block even stronger.
With the Valley Girdle in place, we dropped on our Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads, which feature Anderson Ford's Real Street valve job and those new springs we talked about a few captions back.
Then Mark torqued down the heads and quietly hoped to himself that Turner didn't blow another head gasket so he wouldn't have to "help" him anymore.
Here's where we wished we'd waited on those new NMRA rules. Not that it's a huge deal, but we reinstalled our previously legal AFM/Bassani 171/48-inch short-tube headers. These babies have proven good for a bit more power than short-tube headers with traditional 151/48 primary diameters. Hence, only the 151/48 headers are legal these days.
At least we resisted the urge to move to shaft-mount rocker arms. We stuck with our 1.7:1-ratio Comp rockers, which was a good move because the shaft rockers are now illegal.
What started all the while-we're-at-its was the desire to keep the new head gaskets in place with more than enough fuel. As a result, we stepped up to a set of low-impedance 72-lb/hr fuel injectors from MSD. Yeah, MSD is primarily known for its ignitions (and for good reason, our car has an MSD Digital 7), but the company also has some fuel-system components such as fuel injectors. We started getting these parts so long ago, we ordered what was likely one of the last Pro-M 80mm mass air meters from the old Best Products. These meters are now manufactured and sold by Professional Mass Air Systems. Naturally, ours was calibrated for the 72s, but in the naturally aspirated calibration because that tends to work better on PMS-equipped cars like ours.
We're getting closer here by reinstalling our Vortech SQ S-Trim. Yes, it still wears last year's pulley, but we'll address that and the headers at some point.
We also reinstalled this AFM billet adjuster ($94.64) that allows you to loosen the tensioner bolts and adjust tension with a bolt, which is much easier and a more consistent way to tension the blower belt.
There must be a million trick spark plugs on the market, but when an NMRA racer with a cutting-edge, naturally aspirated race car confided that Brisk plugs were good for an improvement on his car, we took notice. So we decided to give them a shot in our new combination. Of course, we couldn't resist giving them a bath in antiseize before installing them in the aluminum Trick Flow heads. According to Brisk, the unique design of these long-glide spark plugs-a deeply protruding center electrode surrounded by four integrated ground straps-ignites the mixture more spontaneously and leads to an unrestricted flame front, which leads to more power.
Since we were hoping for more rpm to bring more boost, we thought it might be a good idea to step up to Vortech's race bypass valve, which is made easier by using Vortech's kit that includes larger discharge and inlet tubing (PN 4FA212-060; $563.95). Of course, this meant we had to adapt it to our existing AFM Power Pipe, which was just a matter of replacing the Power Pipe's rubber elbow with the cast-aluminum Vortech inlet tube. No big deal, till it wouldn't clear our valve covers. We tried AFM's beautiful chrome covers that look like the chrome stockers in the old FRPP catalogs, and they bought us a little more room-but we ended up trimming the cast-aluminum inlet tube at an angle to gain the necessary clearance. You may not have this problem; we're guessing it depends on the shape of your valve covers.
Whew! That took longer that we thought it would, but thankfully she's all back together again, and she looks good.
Oh yeah, we mentioned a few captions back that we moved to low-impedance 72-lb/hr injectors from MSD. This style of injector is supposed to provide better control of the fuel flow, especially at lower flow rates, but it is incompatible with the injector driver in the stock EEC IV processor. Thankfully, we run the AFM/EFI Systems Programmable Management Unit to tune our setup. This arrangement makes moving to low-impedance injectors easy, as EFI Systems offers a plug-in driver box that works in conjunction with the PMS to drive the injectors. If you ran low-impedance injectors with the stock computer, you would burn out its high-impedance drivers. That would be bad. (Of course, this converter box works better if you plug it all the way in, right Mark?)
When our antiroll bar gave out on the Bowling Green staring line, we took that as a hint it was time to try a new rear-suspension setup. With Real Street racers like Jim Breese rocking 1.32 60-foot times with Steeda's Hardcore gear, we opted to give the stuff a try on our ride. Of course, we didn't want to lose all the rear-suspension settings put in place by Mark Anderson's uncle Ron (have you seen that Pure Street car wheelstand?), so we duplicated the settings of our old suspension on our new Steeda Hardcore setup, starting with the Track-Only Adjustable Control Arms (PN 555-4102; $179.95). These arms are adjustable, so you can set pinion angle to the track's liking, and they have no-give spherical bushings at the chassis.
Down low, we went with Steeda's Hardcore Adjustable Billet Aluminum Lower Control Arms (PN 555-4412; $499.45) with spherical bearings. These arms look tough as nails and you'd think toughness would mean heavy, but it doesn't-they only tilt the scales at 7 pounds. Moreover, these billet beauties are weight-jackers, so with the turn of a half-inch ratchet you can raise or lower your car one inch. This can come in especially handy if you need to make sure your chassis doesn't rub on your slicks.
After Mark spent some quality time grinding off our old sway-bar mounts, we enlisted the help of our pal, Randy Bolig. He's editor of our sister magazine, Mopar Muscle, but we won't hold that against him-because we've seen Mark's welding! Whoever you get to weld on your Steeda Hardcore antisway bar (PN 555-8102; $299.95), make sure they weld the mounts a little at a time so they don't overheat the roller bearing. After we positioned the bar, we clamped it in place, then had Randy lay down a couple welds. After that, we removed the clamps and let him go to town. Thanks, Randy!
With the rollbar welded in place, Mark installed the Heim joints. Adjust these links with the car on the ground. You want the driver side of the car to be 11/416 inch lower than the passenger side to counteract the natural twist of the chassis when you rev the motor and drop the hammer. Don't worry about weight or durability with the Steeda Hardcore piece-it's tubular to save pounds and powdercoated to resist corrosion.
Here's our revamped rear suspension, courtesy of Steeda Hardcore. After we get a legal pulley and headers and some dyno tuning done, we'll be ready to test this stuff.